Calvin Coolidge was our 30th President of the United States and he isn’t talked about too often in the general grand scheme of Presidential history. There will probably never be a biopic about President Coolidge, but he does receive the honor of having an alien named after him in Daniel Espinosa’s Life. The term mild-mannered comes up frequently in relation to the President. His extra-terrestrial namesake is nothing of the kind.
Life takes place entirely on the International Space Station (ISS) where a six-member crew is returning from a Mars mission. They’ve made quite the discovery: Matt Damon and they’re bringing him home with his disco music! Actually it’s a soil sample that turns out to be the first evidence of life outside Earth. School children are given the ability to name this historic being and the lucky winners hail from Calvin Coolidge Elementary – hence Calvin.
Jake Gyllenhaal is Dr. Jordan, who’s been stationed the longest and seems to have a slight case of space institutionalization. Ryan Reynolds is engineer Rory, who keeps the Reynolds patented wisecracks to a minimum. Dr. Miranda (Rebecca Ferguson) is the chief quarantine officer. Biologist Hugh (Ariyon Barake) is tasked with bringing Calvin out of his dormant status to life.
That turns out to be a bad idea because Calvin has only survival instincts in mind. The organism shows a mean streak when he wakes up and Life becomes all about the passengers on board clinging to their own.
Audiences have been treated (or in some cases subject to) a host of outer space themed pictures in recent years, from Gravity to Interstellar to The Martian to Passengers to name a few. Some of those titles had a hopeful tone about what lies beyond our planet. Life? Not so much.
The production design and technical elements are top-notch and the acting is just fine, even though no one really has a character to work with. Espinosa’s exercise is mainly an excuse to pay both loving homage and rip-off Alien, the granddaddy of this genre. In that sense, it does provide some genuinely scary moments and plenty of others that are just familiar territory. Life is competent if not memorable, which is also what some historians say about President Coolidge.
**1/2 (out of four)